Software

Five apps that make Outlook easier to use

The modern workforce spends a good part of the workday using an email client like Outlook. These five add-ins can make that time more productive and much less frustrating.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/PhotoAttractive

For most us living in a hectic world of enterprise communication, our email client is where we spend most of our workday. It is the application that ties together all the other productivity apps we use on a daily basis. For Microsoft Office 365 users that means Outlook.

While Microsoft has spent a great deal of time and resources trying to improve the Outlook interface, the app could still use some help when it comes to ease-of-use features. Here are five add-ins that could improve your daily interaction with the Outlook email client.

Note: This article is also available as a screenshot gallery.

Basics

If you are a subscriber to Office 365, these Outlook add-ins will be installed into both the desktop version and the online version of the application. You need to install only once and let synchronization take its course, which is very convenient.

Image A

To see a complete list of all the available add-ins, log in to Office 365 online and then click or tap the Office Store tile. You can also get to the Office Store from the Desktop version of Outlook (it's in the Ribbon), but that access path is not nearly as interactive as the browser version.

1: Bing Nearby

Whether it's an onsite meeting with an important client or a lunch meeting with the team, it is important to get there on time. One of the best ways to keep yourself on schedule is to know exactly where you are going. The Bing Nearby (Figure A) app gives you instant access to Bing's mapping features from within the confines of the Outlook interface.

Figure A

Figure A

Just click the Bing Nearby icon while you are composing a new message or creating a meeting on the calendar and you will see a dialog box in the right-hand pane. Type in an address or the name of a restaurant and the app will give you location choices. Click one of those choices and the pertinent location information will be attached to the message or calendar entry automatically.

Bing Nearby is free and is produced by Microsoft as a supplement for Outlook.

SEE: Five apps for staying entertained on long flights2: PayPal

In today's world, sending someone money can be accomplished with just a few clicks on the computer. However, the PayPal add-in for Outlook (Figure B) makes that process even simpler, assuming you have an account.

Figure B

Figure B

While in Outlook writing a message, merely click the PayPal icon and you'll be presented with a screen that will allow you to send a PayPal payment. All you need to fill out is the recipient's address and your account password. Of course, the recipient will also need a PayPal account to collect the payment.

The PayPal add-in is free, but depending on how you structured your account there may be a transaction fee attached.

3: DocuSign

Even in the digital age some documents must be signed—there is no way around it. However, with the help of the DocuSign add-in for Outlook (Figure C), you can "sign" documents electronically without leaving your email client to do it.

Figure C

Figure C

The DocuSign add-in will lead you, and all the other signees of a document, through the process, clearly explaining each step along the way. Once the process is complete, the document will be signed just as well as if you had used a ballpoint pen.

The one catch is that DocuSign is not free. Installing the add-in to Outlook does not cost anything, but using it to get documents signed requires a subscription of at least $10/month—more for business uses. However, DocuSign does offer a 30-day free trial so you can check it out beforehand if you want. The expense is likely worth it for lawyers and real estate agents, for example. It may be worth it for your enterprise too.

4: FindTime

One of the more frustrating activities surrounding collaboration in an enterprise is scheduling a meeting time that works for everyone involved. This frustration goes beyond just finding a time when all the participants can attend, according to their Outlook calendars. People tend to have times during a workday when they would prefer to avoid having a meeting, for example. FindTime can help you find a meeting time that works best for all concerned.

FindTime (Figure D) will create a polling email for you to send to all potential meeting attendees. You can propose a meeting time or several times and the attendees can vote on which times they prefer. FindTime will compile the results and determine a time that the majority of attendees prefer. Problem solved and morale boosted.

Figure D

Figure D

FindTime was developed by a team at Microsoft and is a free add-in for Outlook. The service does require that you register an account the first time you use it.

5: IXD Secure Mail

Collaboration with team members about a project is all well and good, but sometimes you need to email sensitive documents that should remain confidential between the parties involved. This is where an encryption add-in for Outlook can come in handy.

IXD Secure Mail (Figure E) adds an extra level of encryption to an email and/or attachment to an email all within the Outlook interface. It does this by storing those documents in an encrypted form on a cloud-based server and coordinating access based on the information you provide.

Figure E

Figure E

The recipient will receive access credentials but not the documents themselves. They will have access to the encrypted documents for a short period of time before the service deletes them for security's sake.

IDX Secure Mail has an interesting pricing plan. It is free for individuals and occasional use. If you want to use the encryption system on a more regular basis it will cost $3/month. Larger enterprises can call to get a custom quote.

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About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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